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The strangest rejection ever

I hate rejection, of course, but I’ve (mostly) learned how to accept it, realize it’s not about me, improve my approach, and move on.

For this reason, I don’t write about rejection here, unless I think an anecdote is useful for readers.

Or unless I need some help understanding it.


So here’s the situation:

I pitched an article to a large national newspaper. It was not, I should mention, to the travel section.

The pitch was for an article I’ve been working on for almost six months. I’ve shopped the idea around a bit, but the piece hasn’t found its home just yet. I’ve had some spectacularly bad luck along the way (having the attention of an editor at a magazine and pitching her the idea, only to see the magazine publish a story on almost the same topic one week later–hate it when that happens), but not enough to give up on the story.

I decided to change tactics. Forget magazines; try newspapers instead.

I began researching which US cities would be the best fit for the article and I embedded myself in the library for several hours one recent morning to get a better sense of the types of stories (format, length, regional reach) the editors were inclined to run.

Then, I made a list of the papers where I’d like to see the article run. Circulation, audience, reputation, and payment all figured into my calculus of desire; when I decided which paper I wanted to approach first, I reviewed my pitch and then sent it off. As always, I included relevant publication credits.

The good news: I received a reply in less than 24 hours.

The bad news: It was a rejection. A really weird rejection.

Here it is:

Hello Julie,

I cannot hire you to write about Puerto Rico because you’re too connected
to the tourism industry there. It sounds like a good story.

Thank you for your query.

I was standing in the bookstore, about to take Mariel downstairs for story time, when I read the message, and I was ___…, well, I don’t know what I was. Annoyed and confused, I suppose. What did she mean, I was “too connected to the tourism industry”?

I could have just dropped it, sent a polite “Thanks for your reply,” and moved on, but I was genuinely curious and I really wanted to know what the editor meant. I wrote her back:

Thanks for your quick reply. I’d love to know what your specific concerns are, as I’ve never received a response quite like yours. (And truth be told, I wish I was more connected; PRTC is worthless when it comes to even returning a phone call, much less providing any support.) In any event, thanks for your time.

And she replied:

The [name of newspaper redacted] is very very careful about conflict of interest, or (and

this is just as important), anything that might appear to be a conflict.

At this point, I was really annoyed, but I did drop it… at least with her. Since then, though, I’ve been stewing. How does this editor determine whether a conflict of interest exists? Generally, editors with whom I’ve worked have requested disclosures for comps or other conflicts of interest; these requests are, in fact, written into my contracts. I’m happy to make such disclosures… if there are any to make. What annoyed me was that she didn’t really seem interested in doing just a bit more work to perform due diligence… work that *I* would have actually had to do.

Any other interpretations from you? What kinds of rejections have you received and what have you learned from them?



4 responses »

  1. Wow. Truly bizarre. I really wonder what she saw in the limited info she had about you that suggested conflict of interest (or rather, “appearance of conflict of interest”?) to her. Could it be your time spent living there, or leading tours there? The fact that you’ve written extensively about PR and thus have a lot of contacts in the industry there? I guess, I GUESS if I squint I can see how having an extensive network in/deep connection to a place could constitute “appearance of conflict of interest,” but I’d be more inclined to see those things as positives – they make you the opposite of the parachuted-in writer.

  2. Wtf? Maybe she felt like it would be a biased piece? ….but how can you write about something if you don’t really know anything about it? Sorry, I’m no help. Just as confused as you.

  3. Wow that is crazy. You are so mature for dropping it, I would have kept going until I got an answer that didn’t sound like bullshit.

  4. Quite bizarre…….apparently she thought you were a shill for the CVB or something……I’m in agreement with Ayngelina… was a wise decision to drop it since it sounds like you’d have been unable to correct her impression, but it’s her loss.


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